The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to email@example.com.
US Abandons the Kurds
7 October 2019
The United Nations cautioned on Monday that it is “preparing for the worst” in north eastern Syria after the United States said it would allow the Turkish army to carry out a military operation in the area.
“We do not know what will happen … we are preparing for the worst,” UN Syria Humanitarian Coordinator Panos Moumtzis said in Geneva, adding that the United Nations is in contact with all parties on the ground. He said the UN has a contingency plan to address any additional civilian suffering, but “it hopes it will not have to resort to it.”
In recent weeks, Turkey has sent reinforcement to the border area with Syria, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the operation alluded to by Turkey for some time could begin “any night without warning.”
His comments came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that his country was determined to “cleanse” Syria of “terrorist” who are threatening Turkey’s security, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which Kurdish fighters make the backbone of.
The United States began withdrawing its troops from the border strip with Turkey in northern Syrian on Monday, paving the way for Ankara to carry out its threat to launch an attack against Kurdish fighters and undermine efforts to fight the Islamic State.
The Kurdish units are a major partner in the US-led international coalition to fight ISIS, and they have managed to defeat the radical group in vast areas in north and east Syria.
The SDF cautioned that “the Turkish military operation in north and east Syria will have a huge negative effect on our war against ISIS (the Islamic State),” stressing their determination to “defend our land no matter the price.”
Call Between Erdogan and Trump
6 October 2019
Ankara said on Sunday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed, during a phone call with his US counterpart Donald Trump, to hold a meeting in Washington next month to discuss the “safe zone” in northern Syria.
Erdogan told trump that he “feels disappointed because of the failure of the US military and security bureaucracy to implement the deal” made by the two sides in August on a buffer zone on the Syrian border with Turkey, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Russian Airstrike in Idlib
5 October 2019
At least nine jihadist fighters were killed on Sunday in Russian airstrikes that targeted positions for two extremist factions, Horras al-Din and Ansar al-Tawheed, in eastern Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
These airstrikes came despite Idlib and its surrounding being included in a ceasefire since late August that was declared by Moscow and agreed to by Damascus. Due to this ceasefire, military jets have been absent from the air, however, artillery and missile breaches have continued intermittently.
Russia, which backs Syrian government forces, often launches strikes against the mobilization and headquarters of extremist organizations in Idlib and its surrounding.
Turkish Universities in Syria
4 October 2019
Turkey’s Gaziantep University will open three faculties in small northern Syrian towns, Ankara’s Official Gazette said on Friday, reflecting a growing Turkish presence in the region.
An Islamic sciences faculty will be opened in Syria’s Azaz, an education faculty in Afrin, and a faculty of economics and administrative sciences in al-Bab, Turkey’s official state publication said.
All three towns are in north-western Syria, west of the Euphrates river and broadly north of Aleppo, in regions to which Turkey has twice sent forces in the last three years to drive back the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and ISIS fighters, in a bid to protect its own border.
The towns have been struck in the past by bomb attacks, some of which have been blamed on ISIS and others on Kurdish fighters.
Ankara has previously built hospitals, restored schools, and trained fighters in northwest Syria, and Turkish media reports say it is planning to build an industrial zone in the region to create jobs for seven thousand people.
Mines and Explosive Devices
3 October 2019
At least one hundred and seventy-three people, including forty-one children, have been killed since the beginning of the year as a result of mines and explosive devices in various areas in Syria, according to a tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). This represents a new challenge created by the war that threatens the lives of millions of people.
Mines and explosive devices are some of the complicated issues that emerged from the Syrian war which has been ongoing for more than eight years.
The victims include at least forty-four civilians, mostly women, who were killed during the truffle season in rural areas, according to the SOHR.
Mines have also left dozens of victims, mostly women, with injuries that ranged from amputation to severe injuries.
According to the United Nations, 10.2 million Syrians are in danger of getting hurt by an explosive device left behind in the country as a result of the war.
Planting mines was a strategy followed by several parties in the Syrian conflict, most notably ISIS which booby-trapped various objects such as buildings, cars, household items, and food containers.
The Syrian government and the United Nations signed a memorandum in July to support Damascus’s demining efforts.
Sports, Gardens, and Churches
2 October 2019
Four years after the onset of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, Russian soldiers are enjoying a lavish life in their main base in the coastal city of Tartous, and there is nothing to suggest that their stay will not be long.
A Russian officer points to little plants planted in a garden in the naval base. “They will have enough time to grow,” he confidently says.
Announcements of Russia withdrawing its troops and decreasing its operations significantly have been continuously coming, without this having an effect on its long-term presence in Syria, which seems key to the country’s future.
Russian soldiers can visit gyms, saunas, bakeries, and dry cleaners, in addition to a small Orthodox church. Soldiers have “all necessary leisure means,” said a Russian officer, who requested to remain anonymous as he is not authorized to speak to journalists.
The intervention of the Russian air force in the Syrian conflict since September 2015 allowed the balance to tip in Damascus’s favor, as government forces managed to advance at the expense of both militant and jihadist factions and retake control of large swaths of the country.
According to official statistics, three thousand Russian soldiers are deployed in Syria, in addition to jets, helicopters, warships, and submarines. The new S-400 air defense system provides protection for the facilities.
The Russian Hmeimim base, which was hastily built near the outskirts of a civil airport, has turned into a permanent base since 2017. The same thing happened in Tartous, as this Russian naval facility situated at the port has turned into a “permanent naval base.”
In both sites, Moscow has a forty-nine-year lease, cementing its presence in the Middle East and enabling it to exercise its influence, especially against the United States.
Testing the “S-500”
1 October 2019
The Russian Izvestia newspaper said that the Russian army has carried out successful tests on the most important components of the S-500 air defense missile system.
The newspaper said, citing sources in the Russian ministry of defense and the military and industrial complex, that “tests have revealed a number of gaps in the work of the system’s equipment which were quickly filled,” adding that “the tests are over and they were deemed successful.”